Cities are stepping up on water
Cities and their citizens have long borne the brunt of the climate crisis, which, as the science clearly warns, is not going away.
But cities around the world face another major challenge: dwindling and unsafe water supplies. And the scale is huge, with 785 million people globally lacking clean water close to home.
With climate change exacerbating the global water crisis and water being a critical part of the climate solution, cities must address these challenges hand-in-hand — and urgently.
But how many cities are doing this?
Data collected in partnership by CDP and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability shows that 59% of cities* face substantial current or future risk to their water supply, but only 31% reported that they have a water management strategy to safeguard this vital resource.
From Rajkot, India, to Salt Lake City, USA, cities are leading on ensuring a safe and steady supply of water and setting an example for others to follow. Now, more cities must work to provide citizens with safe, healthy, and resilient places to live and work — now and in the future.
The current state of play
It’s clear that cities in all regions are facing water-related risks, but how are they tackling them?
34% of cities disclosing through the CDP-ICLEI Unified Reporting System in 2019 studied their water supply and sanitation in their climate risk and vulnerability assessment, but of those, only 41% developed a water management strategy to address risks to water supply. On top of that, 53 cities that reported water risks did not state plans to develop a water management strategy, citing barriers such as lack of resources and funding.
Increasing water stress — the top risk, reported by 23% of cities
Dar es Salaam, the largest city and former capital of Tanzania sits on the shores of the Indian Ocean. 75% of its population have access to potable water, but with cholera outbreaks in 2018 and 2019 attributed to insufficient piping and water sanitation, the city is working hard to give the remaining 25% of citizens safe water supplies too.
Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Authority (DAWASA) has recently embarked on 16 water security projects worth a combined $2million USD. Through expanding and reengineering miles of the city’s existing distribution network, these projects are set to provide even more of its five million citizens with access to safe drinking water, mitigating against the risk of further water-borne infections and improving public health.
These projects are being delivered from the ground up, using the vitally important local energy and knowledge, with investment directly financed from DAWASA’s use fee. Once complete, these projects will grant 95% of the city’s population access to a safe and secure supply of this vital resource.
Across the Indian Ocean, the city of Rajkot sits in India’s desert state of Gujarat. Irregular and erratic rainfall in the city have wreaked havoc. On top of this, the Rajkot’s groundwater lies some 1000 feet below its foundations, and competition for the vital supply is tight. Illegal water connections are rife, and the city has cut off a total of 5,874. With citizens trying to take as much as they can, harnessing each drop of the city’s supply and high levels of runoff are integral to Rajkot’s water management plans.
To deliver improved access to water, Rajkot are engineering a new storm water drainage unit, replacing old pipelines with a new network to prevent drainage and, fitting 150,000 homes with water meters – all measures intended to give citizens fair and equal access to safe water.
Declining water quality — reported by 20% of cities
Although not the most reported water risk, declining water quality will exacerbate others, with each drop of wastewater squeezing supply and increasing demand for safe water.
Declining water quality must be tackled at the source, and 82% of cities reporting this risk identified it as either serious or extremely serious.
CDP’s Global Water Report found that just 10% of corporate respondents recognize water pollution as a top risk; this invisible crisis is already being felt more so by cities, and both stakeholders will need to take action to address pollution.
But cities are responding, taking decisive action to improve water quality and supply.
Salt Lake City’s population is set to double by 2065, and the booming population will need safe water. To deliver, the city is building its new Water Reclamation Facility, estimated to cost $700 million USD and take five years to complete. Taking the place of the city’s current plant — aged 55 — the upcoming facility will remove phosphorus from the city’s water supply, preventing the build-up of algae through eutrophication.
Västervik is one of the largest fish landing sites in Sweden. Wanting to boost water reserves for citizens and local businesses, the city is pumping wastewater left after its fish stock is exported across Eastern Europe, back into its water system. After 20-25 days, these remnants turn into biogas and odor-free fertilizer, which the city distributes amongst local farmers free of charge.
This is not only reducing CO2 emissions with co-benefits to local industry and the citizens that keep it alive, but is reducing eutrophication, in the Baltic Sea.
Next steps? Safe and secure water supplies require robust plans
As growing urban populations and a rapidly changing climate put added pressure on our water supply, it is encouraging to see around a third (31%) of cities already rolling out water management strategies.
However, without significant change from the remaining two-thirds, there is a tough road ahead. Now, all cities must push tackling water risks and seizing opportunities to develop to the top of their agenda, so that they can continue to be safe and secure places to live and work.
This article was originally published by CDP.